SA president learns independence, work ethic from tumultuous childhood
Published: Wednesday, August 28, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, August 28, 2013 01:08
Last semester, Nick Johns said, “I get my hands dirty” – something he believed differentiated him from anyone else yearning for the job of Student Association president.
Two days before the SA election, Johns trekked into The Spectrum office in a black t-shirt and track pants caked in mud – the complete opposite attire of his opponents and even his running mates. It wasn’t the typical uniform for someone trying to convince the editorial board why they should endorse him.
“I’m ready to get down in the trenches and figure out what needs to be done,” he said that day. “I’m not going to sit on a pedestal; I’m trying to live the college life.”
Four months later, he believes he is sticking to his promise.
Since his first day as SA president, Johns, a junior business and political science major, has “hit the ground running,” according to his assistant Marissa Malone. Others in his office echo that sentiment and praise the enthusiasm he brings to his job. But they say it is his work ethic and meticulous nature that separates him from the rest of the student body.
“He doesn’t mind diving into something head first, making sure it gets done,” said Lyle Selsky, SA vice president. “He has a very hands-on approach. Nick likes to be involved in every little thing that happens in the office.”
Johns said his childhood played a big role with this attribute. He was born in Seoul, South Korea, and when he was 6 months old, a Rochester family adopted him.
When he was 12, his parents divorced.
“My parents’ divorce showed me that life will throw things at you that you can never expect, and that your adaptation to changing circumstances while maintaining yourself defines who you are,” Johns said.
Because he was young when they divorced, he was forced to be independent, something he was already used to at that age. His parents would work long hours, so his grandma would often take care of him and his sister, who is two and a half years younger than him. By his teenage years, he was used to taking care of himself and his sister.
In addition to the divorce, Johns also learned a lot about himself from his adoption. He recalled the many looks he and his white parents would get when they were grocery shopping. He said it was a constant reminder of the relevance of race even in today’s society.
His unique situation allowed him not only to gain an appreciation for every single individual, but also a new appreciation for the cultural diversity at UB.
“Showing that everybody has something to bring to the table and that everybody has a valid viewpoint is definitely something that my upbringing has given me – that and a healthy dose of individual spirit,” Johns said.
Though the divorce threw a wrench into his adolescence, Johns still calls his parents his biggest influences – each for different reasons.
Johns’ mother taught him a lot. She was initially a lab technician and then went back to school for IT and worked as a system administrator at Kodak. After that, she went back for nursing. She taught him that persistence pays off.
But the biggest lesson he learned from her is one he tries to embrace every day.
“She is willing to accept anybody for who they are,” Johns said. “I guess I’ve tried to take [a little bit from both my parents] and intermingle them in my life.”
He reveres his father’s work ethic. He was a machinist in a tool shop, and through hard work, he was able to become a mechanical engineer.
Johns tries to emulate that determination.
“His work ethic and his endurance definitely showed me that if you put enough effort into something and do it well enough, you could do anything,” he said.
In addition to his father’s diligence, Johns also attributes his levelheadedness and goal-oriented nature to his father, something his colleagues have noticed.
“He definitely knows what is expected of him and he has a set of goals in his head and a picture of how he wants to see the office,” said Siddhant Chhabria, SA treasurer.
Johns’ father, Steven, isn’t surprised at his son’s commitment to hard work. He is honored to be one of Johns’ two biggest influences.
Steven was brokenhearted when he and his wife divorced, he said. But he is proud of the way his son handled the situation, especially beginning at such a young age.
“He had to learn to start taking care of himself – being more independent,” Steven said. “I wasn’t there to help him out on certain things. If I wasn’t there, he had to help himself. He had to learn by doing.”
Johns said his parents’ divorce taught him many lessons about life.
“It was at a formative stage in my life and it made me realize a lot of truths about life,” Johns said. “That circumstances aren’t always picture perfect and everyone you meet has a story, but also that you shouldn’t let past hardships affect your outlook for the future. Positivity, whether it’s belief in a higher power or humanity, plays a huge role in defining your interpretation of the universe and its subsequent reactions to you.”
His parents and the obstacles of his childhood have shaped the person he has become. His father taught him that hard work and a little dirt on your hands was a good thing. And with eight months left in his administration, he said his hands aren’t getting cleaner any time soon.
Additional reporting by News Editor Joe Konze Jr.